December Focus: The Connected Consumer

This post is the latest in our “Connected Consumer” series. It’s our editorial focus for the month of December, including topics like personal assistant apps, smart speakers, IoT and wearables. See the rest of the series here


When looking at several interlocking tech trends — wearables, IoT, smart devices, autonomous vehicles — one common thread emerges: our escalating connectivity as humans. All these technologies are increasingly melded with our senses as the computing “abstraction layer” diminishes.

In other words, device interfaces continue to get more intuitive and automatic. That can be seen in the progression of personal computing from UI milestones like the mouse to mobile-centric touch controls. Now, we have biometric tracking on the Apple Watch and ambient alerts to AirPods.

The “connected consumer” will be Street Fight’s editorial focus for the month of December. You may have noticed our monthly themes: November’s focused on holiday shopping, October on local commerce verticals, and September on mapping. These are tentpole issues for local media and commerce.

Wearables in fact could be the next battleground for the ways that tech giants touch us (literally). Wearables’ poster child, Apple, most embodies this trend. Apple has a robust financial incentive to cultivate the product category as it diversifies revenue in the face of market saturation for its cash cow, the iPhone.

The sense of urgency surrounding wearables at Apple is apparent in its Q4 earnings. iPhone sales were down 9% YoY to $33.36 billion, while wearables were up 54% to $6.52 billion. This is similar to where the iPhone once sat relative to maturing Mac sales.

And it’s not alone. Those who didn’t enjoy the benefits of direct consumer hardware in the smartphone era, as Google and Apple did, now see its maturity as a window to get in on the next hardware era. That direct consumer touchpoint is key to position core products — be it search, e-commerce, or ads — in front of users.

With that in mind, Amazon blitzed the wearables market last month as a delivery system for Alexa. Its Echo Buds are AirPod-like Bluetooth earpieces, Echo Frames are Bose Frames-like audio glasses, and Echo loop is an odd little ring with a mic and speaker. Microsoft followed soon after that with its Surface Earbuds.

Meanwhile, Facebook has been quiet on the wearables front except for its recent proclamation about AR glasses. Then there’s Snapchat. It’s slowly zeroing in on an elegant UX with Spectacles 3 as it feels out and advances consumer comfort levels for the face-worn iteration of its “camera company” play.

But the connected consumer phenomenon extends well beyond wearables. Smart speakers and the expanding universe of Alexa devices continue to penetrate the market. Still, doubt remains that these products will fulfill their commercial potential. Though meant as a Trojan horse for Google (search volume) and Amazon (order volume), smart-speaker voice searches lack commercial intent.

We’ll unpack these topics and angles throughout the month. Beyond the monthly theme, we’ll cover the entire location technology and media sectors that you’ve come to expect. We’ll do that daily in the pages of Street Fight as well as Street Fight Daily and our biweekly podcast.

And being the end of the year, it’s also predictions season. We’ll be publishing 2020 predictions throughout the month, some related to the connected consumer, some not. I’ll be writing about expected outcomes for wearables, building on a lot of the above and throwing in some concrete predictions on sales figures.

If you’d like to have your 2020 predictions heard, reach out to us. Also look forward to more structural developments at Street Fight, and contact us with any questions or opportunities to participate.

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Mike Boland is Street Fight's lead analyst, author of the Road Map column and producer of the Heard on the Street podcast. He has been an analyst in the local space since 2005, covering mobile, social and emerging tech. More biographical information can be seen at www.mikebo.land
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